How to Become a Medical Coder
Medical billing and coding professionals help health care providers run their practices more efficiently. Here’s how to join their ranks.
Learning how to become a medical coder will put you in a pivotal role in the health care industry. Typically the primary job of medical coders is to assign clinical codes for insurance reimbursement and data analysis after a patient receives treatment from a health care provider.
Also called coding specialists or medical billing specialists, medical coders can work for a wide range of health care providers. “Medical coding has such diverse opportunities and jobs that are available in different medical fields, such as anesthesia, cardiovascular, [and] orthopedic,” says Peggy Stilley, director of education at the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC).
Here’s what you need to know about a medical coder’s job responsibilities, what medical coders make, and the path to becoming one.
What does a medical coder do?
A medical coder’s job duties depend on what kind of employer they work for, Stilley says. Those who work at a doctor’s office assign billing codes for claims processing based on clinical or surgical notes from their practice’s physician. Coders may work in other capacities, such as auditors, managers, and billing staff in clinical settings, or for insurance or billing companies where they assist in adjudicating claims and reviewing payment policies. “An experienced coder can progress to consulting,” says Stilley.
In general, medical coders assign two types of codes: International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10-CM) codes for medical diagnoses and Current Procedure Terminology (CPT) codes for tests, evaluations, surgeries, and other medical procedures performed on a patient.
In order to assign codes properly, medical coders must have a fundamental understanding of anatomy and medical terminology, says Melody Irvine, a medical coder consultant and the founder of Career Coders LLC, an online medical billing and coding school.
“For example, let’s say a patient has diabetes. Coders need to know whether the diabetes is controlled or uncontrolled, whether they’re diabetic type one or two type, and whether they take insulin,” Irvine says. “All of those things get put together to find the right medical code.” Check out Monster’s medical coder job description for more info.
Medical coder hours and work environment
Coders who work in a clinical setting typically work 40 hours a week during regular office hours, Stilley says. However, “with the recent [coronavirus] epidemic, many office coders have been relocated to working remotely,” she says. Coders who work for insurance or billing companies may work in an office or work remotely full-time.
“If you work in an office, you need interpersonal skills to interact with patients,” Irvine says. “At times, you may have very difficult patients, but what you need to remember is that patients are people, and they’re often not trying to lash out at you personally, they’re just frustrated.”
Medical coder education requirements
To learn how to become a medical coder, you’ll need some certifications under your belt. Most jobs require a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Many employers seek candidates who also have postsecondary medical coding certification, such as a Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential from the AAPC or a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credential from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). “Certifications can make you more marketable in the field,” says Irvine.
Medical coders must take classes to learn the fundamentals of medical billing and coding.
How long does it take to become a medical coder?
Some medical billing and coding courses can be completed in a matter of weeks, while others take months. Certifications, however, take more time and real-world experience to earn.
For example, to receive a CPC designation, you must have at least two years of medical coding experience, or at least 80 hours of a coding preparation course and a signed letter from your employer verifying you have one year of on-the-job experience.
How much do medical coders make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect salary data for a medical billing and coding salary alone. Instead, it classifies medical coders under the profession of medical records and health information technicians. The median annual wage for that occupation is $42,630, with the highest 10% earning $71,150 per year.
Pay can vary by state. Medical coders in California report the highest salaries, earning $52,580 on average. You can look up the average salary medical coders in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.
How to find medical coding jobs
According to the BLS, jobs for medical coders will grow 8% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average for all occupations, which means there’s a promising future in this industry.
These are the top five states with the most medical coding jobs. Click through to find job opportunities:
Top five areas:
- Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim, CA
- New York City/Newark, NJ/Jersey City, NJ
- Chicago/Naperville/Elgin, IL
- Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, TX
- Houston/The Woodlands/Sugar Land, TX
Now that you know how to become a medical coder, it’s a good idea to stay current on job information so you know who’s hiring. Need some help? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of medical coding jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Those are two quick and easy ways to improve your chances of finding the right job for you.